Not easy getting ‘fair’ with free trade


My niece, Stephanie Brown, is a wunderkind.

She skipped sixth grade, informed calculus teachers in high school that a textbook answer was wrong (it was) and entered Clemson University with enough college credits to be granted sophomore status. Now, a year later, she has enough credits to be considered a senior.

Her two majors are a little fuzzy to me – something international and Spanish – but it doesn’t surprise me, since languages come as easily to her as those little calculus equations.

When she was conferring with advisers about a language minor, the unequivocal recommendation came quickly: Chinese.

And that should be no surprise either. China, with just under 1.3 billion residents, looms as a major player – economically, politically and militarily.

Looks good on paper. Along with the United States, China accounts for most of the current growth in the world economy.

Ever since Richard Nixon stepped off Air Force One onto Chinese soil on Feb. 21, 1972, we’ve drooled over access to that booming, potential consumer market. Today, the U.S. State Department says the Chinese import more from the United States than many of our other trading partners.

Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, it has become our fifth largest market for agricultural exports. China is the largest export destination for U.S. soybeans, and sales so far this fiscal year have surpassed $1.7 billion.

Yes, but… The foundation is there, but building that market will mean raising the roof and getting tough on trade barriers, protected markets and a lack of open financial transactions, among a host of issues.

According to U.S. statistics, China had a trade surplus with the United States of $103 billion in 2002.

Average Chinese tariff rates on key U.S. agricultural exports are to drop from 31 percent to 14 percent in 2004. China has made token progress since joining the WTO, but serious concerns remain.

Things aren’t all hunky-dory.

While the sleeping giant flirts with capitalism, it maintains an artificially low exchange rate, ignores human rights and environmental protection.

A 1998 World Health Organization report found seven of the world’s 10 most polluted cities were in China. Ninety percent of urban water bodies are severely polluted, and half of the population lacks access to clean water.

Stealing from U.S. And intellectual property rights are meaningless in the Communist party-led state. There is blatant copying of U.S. software and other copyright and patent infringements. U.S. companies are losing billions of dollars because of the piracy of intellectual property.

A Wrigley chewing gum official told the U.S. Commerce Department that the Chinese had pirated their products in one city (Wrigley has a 70 percent share of the Chinese market). Not only were the pirates selling counterfeit gum, they had copied the Wrigley truck and were driving Wrigley’s distribution routes.

They called on Wrigley accounts and paid “premiums” to the shop owners for accepting the counterfeit gum.

China wants our investment and our markets, but has an odd way of reciprocating.

Interestingly, China is slated to host the WTO’s sixth ministerial meeting next year in Hong Kong.

A poised military. I don’t think we can underestimate the Chinese or fully understand their intentions. A July report from the U.S. Department of Defense says that while China interacts with the United States to benefit from trade and technology, “Beijing apparently believes that the United States poses a significant long-term challenge.”

The defense report says that China has “greatly expanded its arsenal of increasingly accurate and lethal ballistic missiles and long-range strike aircraft that are ready for immediate application…”

Teddy Roosevelt was fond of quoting an African proverb that said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far.”

Free trade without fair trade is meaningless. We need to make sure we’re carrying the big stick in future negotiations with China.


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